To be like your own dog
by Eileen Mitchell
San Francisco Chronical
Saturday, May 8, 2004
The newspaper clipping sitting on my desk was titled, "Study: People pick purebred dogs that resemble them." I was sitting across from Paul, discussing a presentation, when I saw his eyes glance at the article. Then he looked behind my shoulder over at my computer, which had kicked into screensaver mode and features a photo of my greyhound, Elvis. Then he looked at me. Then back at Elvis. Then at me again. "Yeah," he nodded nonchalantly, "You do look like your dog."
Not a female jury in the world would convict me. I was about to ask through clenched teeth if it was the long nose or floppy ears he thought bore the most resemblance when he added, " ... you're both tall and skinny."
Had he said "skinny"? Well, alrighty then.
But actually, resembling my dog wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. With his long, delicate limbs, soft, golden hair and chocolate syrup eyes, Elvis exudes a gentle Audrey Hepburn sweetness not always applicable to my own sometimes questionable demeanor. The article Paul had spied on my desk said, "When people pick a dog, they look for one that, at some level, bears some resemblance to them." While the study referenced physical traits, wouldn't it be an improvement if we resembled the personality traits of our dogs?
I wish I could love like a dog, unconditionally and with total purity. He doesn't give a hoot about how much money I make, whether I'm Christian or Jewish, black or white, pro-life or pro-choice, Democrat or Republican. Doesn't matter. Not important. Elvis is wholly and utterly devoted to me for one reason and one reason only: because I'm me. OK, that and I can work a can opener.
I'd love to wake up each morning absolutely thrilled for no reason other than it's yet another day. Sure, I'm in good health, have wonderful family and friends, a roof over my head and food in my cupboards. Yet still, I complain. Where's my whirlwind romance, best-selling novel or Caribbean cruise? Why can't I make more money, lose more weight, have more fun? And is it Friday yet?
Ah, but to a dog each and every boring, monotonous, repetitive day is an absolute adventure. Just the mere appearance of their guardian is enough to elicit an unbridled joy that's the human equivalent of winning the lottery. And what about a ride in the car? A walk in the park? A scratch behind the ears? Suggest any of these simple, mundane activities and I usually have to steer clear of Elvis' tail, wagging so ferociously it practically slaps each side of his ribcage. Happy tail, one friend calls it. Indeed, the spring issue of Berkeley's Bark magazine features two pages of smiling dogs. Silly, happy, goofy grins that capture that blissful, joyful essence of all that is dog. If only we could all be content with so little.
I'd love to work and play like a dog, with total dedication, purpose and concentration. Like the service dog that carefully guides his guardian across a busy street or through a bustling crowd. Observe how seriously a border collie will try to herd playing dogs in a dog park. Watch how focused a golden retriever remains on that airborne Frisbee. See how vigorously a Labrador swims through water. Nothing lackadaisical or halfhearted here. Dogs aren't mulling over their walk tomorrow, their meal tonight or their nap in 10 minutes. Dogs live in the moment. Enthusiastically, they embrace each second of the here and now, be it a day in the field guiding cattle, a Sunday in the yard chasing squirrels or simply a restful afternoon snoozing in a pool of sunshine. Suddenly, dog-tired sounds more like an aspiration than a complaint.
When mistreated, dogs forgive. When ignored, they still love. When abandoned, they remain loyal. When neglected, they don't judge. They want for one thing only. To hear their human's voice, feel their human's touch, revel in the nearness of the person they love so unconditionally. Without prejudice, bias or discrimination, our canine companions epitomize the best of human nature. Or what human nature should be.
All of which leads me to believe there's a reason why it's often pointed out that dog is "God" spelled backward. Because both deity and dog have traits we human beings should all aspire to resemble.
And we don't need a study to tell us that.
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